Why I am ‘politically correct’ (up to a point)


Whenever I hear someone say in a belligerent tone that he or she is “politically incorrect,” I take it to mean that the person is about to say something offensive or vulgar, and that anybody who criticizes is a timid conformist.

There are words I don’t use—”nigger,” “kike” and “faggot”—that are the language of murder.  They are the vocabulary of lynch mobs hanging black people, Cossacks conducting pogroms against Jewish villages, homophobes beating people sometimes to death.

bus_stop_colorFor that matter, I refrain from using words such “redneck.”  It originally was a derogatory term used by the Southern elite for men who worked all day in the hot sun, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

If I want to be treated with courtesy, I extend courtesy in return.  I make a reasonable effort to avoid giving offense.   I expect in return that other people not take offense when no offense is intended.

Being polite doesn’t mean that I self-censor what I say.  It means that I try to think of ways of saying what I have to say so that other people will listen, and that I listen to what they have to say in return.


I’ve been called “racist” a few times during my life.   This didn’t shut me up..

I said I don’t deserve to be called by the same word that is used for Klansman and or Nazis.  I was told that this was not what was meant.  “We are all racists,” the other person would say.

I don’t agree, but I stopped taking offense.  If the meaning of “racist” is “average insensitive, ignorant white guy,” it probably applies.  But then another word is needed for the likes of David Duke.


Women on the Internet are subject to terrible abuse, including threats of rape and dismemberment, especially when they express a pro-feminist point of view.

I myself have never been subjected to insult or threat on the Internet.  Possibly my blog would draw more insults and threats if it were more popular.

Conor Friedersdorf, when he substituted for fellow blogger Megan McArdle when she was on vacation, was shocked by the viciousness and obscenity on the comment thread, although he has gotten his share of insults and threats.

He did an informal poll and found the same was true to some degree among all women bloggers of his acquaintance, and also of gay men bloggers.  None of this has anything to do with full and free debate.


negotiating_payI know in my own experience, in discussion groups I lead and participate in, that the women tend to be shouted down and ignored when they are in the minority.  This is not just a difference between introverts and extroverts.  I think unconscious prejudice against women is common.

I don’t have much experience with people of color in my discussion groups, which may or may not say something about me.  I do think the perspective of minorities tends to be discounted by us whites.

We whites, based on our life experiences, make certain assumptions about how things are, and do not readily understand the different assumptions that come out of the life experiences of African-Americans and other minorities.

Occupy Wall Street addressed this problem by allowing minorities and others normally unheard to go to the head of the line of those waiting their turn to speak.   I would have no problem with this, so long as I had my own chance to speak.

I don’t do anything like that in the groups I belong to, but when I am the leader, I make sure that everybody has a chance to speak, and call on those who have been silent.

And when I am a group member, I insist on hearing from any woman who wants to speak is being ignored.  In this context, I do not think of myself as a feminist.  I think of myself as a gentleman.


Once when I was new at newspaper reporting, I encountered a reporter for the Baltimore Afro-American who told me he represented the black press and I represented the white press.

No, I said, I represent the press without an adjective.  I try to be fair to everyone.  But in fact at that time (the 1960s) I did represent the white press.   No black person worked for my newspaper.  How could I be fair to people whose viewpoints I hardly ever heard?

I think ethnic and racial diversity is irrelevant in some contexts, such as air traffic controllers, and important in others, such as newsrooms.  But diversity is only of benefit as long as thought is free.  A newsroom full of people from varied backgrounds and varied cultures, but all think alike, is not diverse.


niggerI think what’s called “political correctness” can be good up to a certain point, and toxic past that point.  I can’t define that point, but I think I know it when I see it.

I agree with making an effort to hear the voices of groups that have gone unheard.  I do not agree with the assumption that these groups speak with one voice.

The pro-life woman, the African American libertarian, the gay Republican have as much right to be heard as anyone else.

Especially in a college context, it is important that everyone feel free to express their honest opinion in a civil way.  If someone is wrong, show them they are wrong.   A liberal arts education is supposed to open minds, not close them.


The Importance of Being Politically Correct by Ta-Nahesi Coates for The Atlantic.  I agree with political correctness as defined here.

NR ‘Days Since Last Racist Rant’ Sign Back to 0 by Jonathan Chait for New York magazine.

Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet by Amanda Hess for the Pacific Standard.

When Misogynist Trolls Make Journalism Miserable for Women by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic.

One Week of Harassment on Twitter via Feminist Frequency.

Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars by Michelle Goldberg for The Nation.   Perhaps a lesser evil, but not good.

Which women deserve the protection of feminism? by Fredrik de Boer on his blog.

Political Correctness Is Not What You Think It Is by Lee Papa as The Rude Pundit.


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One Response to “Why I am ‘politically correct’ (up to a point)”

  1. prayerwarriorpsychicnot Says:

    The trouble is when a political agenda is inserted into a situation there is a tendency for the baby to be thrown out and the bath water kept. As you noted despite political correctness women and gays are still targeted for abuse and ethnics still excluded and/or patronised in public discourse.
    I was raised to the view – which is also a general American outlook – that we are all equal, and everyone is entitled to respect. All that was ever required was the normal socialising of children and support in the media, and other areas of influence to support these general values. Women’s rights are human rights. It is a discredit to any person to abuse anyone else for favouring a different lifestyle. Most Westerners are of mongrel/migrant background so there is no justification for abuse/exploitation of newcomers. But our media has been prominent in trashing these values of respect, courtesy, equality – treating them as a joke to be sneered at. All was ever required was the support of our Western values. Not trashing them and replacing them with a PC transplant whose meaning is impossible to pin down and is defined arbitrarily at the whim of the enforcers who abuse language in the process. PC is reminiscent of the Scientologists use and application of language to dominate their recruits.
    I suppose I could have said I am opposed to PC in one sentence.


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